Saturday 19 February 2011

Is the game rigged? Or is the world?

Monica Potts despairs that when she plays Civilization, The Sims, and SimCity, she always winds up using strategies she finds ideologically offensive. The (US) liberal has to play as a (US) conservative to win.
There are plenty of other games of which conservatives should approve as well. Sim City, which preceded The Sims, has players create a virtual metropolis instead of a virtual family. As a Sim City expert, I can tell you that things function much more smoothly if taxes are low and city government caters to corporate interests.
Those cities also always end up polluted: Wind energy is fine in theory, but old-fashioned petroleum and coal facilities really make them run.
I'll leave to one side for now that the SimCity style games ignore Hayekian insights - I've covered that before. But don't we have at least some evidence that cities function more smoothly if taxes and regulatory burdens aren't too onerous?

I wonder whether Potts's problem is less with the games and more with the world.
I blame some of my right-of-center leanings on the structures of the games themselves. Having children has the added bonus of extending game time in The Sims, because I get to continue to play the same family as the generations roll by. Maternity leave is mandatory for pregnant Sim women because of a long-standing technical issue within the game, but that replicates a long--standing real-world assumption about which partner should care for newborn children. The result is that my Sim women often leave work permanently because they've taken more time off than their Sim husbands, which actually mirrors the results of gender discrimination in the real world. If the game were set up in a less traditional way, I would likely play it in a less traditional way.
I'm not sure that it's rigging the game to have maternity leave of at least some short period be a necessary counterpart to childbirth. Would it be at all realistic to have the game coded to allow female Sims to have the baby in the morning and be back at the office that afternoon?

Then again, she might just not be all that good a gamer:
Civilization was not created by Wright but is similarly rigged. While, historically, there are plenty of Alexander the Greats who amassed power through conquest, there are also countries like Switzerland that became economically powerful by remaining neutral and pacifist. The conventional wisdom, however, is that war games sell--and Civilization is designed to be a war game. I can opt to commit my resources to building trade alliances and public libraries, but I don't have a choice about building an army to defend my cities against barbarian attacks. Once I have an army, I might as well use it to destroy my competitors. Waging war is the only way I've ever won the game. (It seems important to note that pulling off a "cultural" victory is extremely difficult.) The lesson: Getting results from liberal policies takes a tremendously long time. It's also, frankly, much less fun to have a scripted dialogue with Catherine the Great than to watch a samurai fall to a pikeman's ax.
I've never won through war and have only won through diplomatic and cultural victories. But I've only pushed that high through the computer player difficulty settings. Maybe things flip to advantage warmongering on the higher levels.

HT: @Isegoria


  1. I have never tried the Sim games but I loved the civ series. Granted communism/monarchy in civ makes it easier to get established in the earlier part of the game. That said, nothing beats Democracy with over 50% approval rating, low taxes and more funding for science. It is a boring strategy because it is so effective. Your cities outgrow every other civ and the cash and tech advances just roll in. I frequently have enough cash to just buy up my opponents weaker cities, or found nearby and watch the influence of the supercharged city grow, or just buy your way to Alpha Centauri. Paul Romer would be proud.

  2. Civ 5 is much more weighted against expansionism. But even in the previous Civ games, it isn't really harder to win non-militarily, it is (as she says) just more satisfying to conquer.

    Also, she should try Settlers - running an absolute command economy is a pain in the ass.

  3. I think I remember playing the Sims (or Civ?) a long time ago. I played it west coast liberal style. I built few homes with very little infrastructure and they cost a fortune. This is what goes on in my area with the urban growth boundary that expands only when it won't impact vital hay or grass seed producing farmland.